We asked five members of the Environmental Sustainability working group for the latest about the University’s Environmental Sustainability strategy.
- Professor EJ Milner-Gulland; Director, Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science,
- Professor Myles Allen; Professor of Geosystem Science;
- Harriet Waters; Head of Environmental Sustainability,
- Dr David Wallom; Associate Professor & Associate Director - Innovation, Oxford e-Research Centre
- Kaya Axelsson; Net Zero Policy Engagement Fellow, Environmental Change Institute (former Oxford SU VP Charities and Community)
How do you feel now that the draft strategy has been published and opened for consultation?
HW: I'm over the moon that we are close to getting an ambitious strategy adopted by the University. This is the result of hours of work and dedication from the working group and represents a step change in the University's approach to sustainability.
EJ: Once the strategy is adopted, the University will be making a serious commitment to restoring biodiversity both globally and in our own backyard. Biodiversity loss often gets left out of discussions about environmental sustainability, so I'm proud that Oxford has taken a lead.
MA: Publicly signing up to a net zero carbon target by 2035 will be a brave step by the University but, in true Oxford style, there has been a lot of modelling, number crunching and discussion to get to this point.
KA: The strategy reflects some truly ambitious thinking, and we want students to see that Oxford is really leading on climate, but we also want them to keep pushing us to reflect climate justice values.
What were the main challenges?
EJ: It's all very well to say that we should aim for biodiversity net gain and net zero carbon, but the first thing we need to do is understand our impacts on biodiversity and climate. We commissioned a brilliant piece of work, which dug into the University's purchasing data to provide a first overarching look at where our impacts are, as well as where we lack data.
DW: Within some of the areas covered by the strategy, we have a long way to go to understand what the best solutions and full impacts will be in terms of the operation of our globally important institution.
HW: We were able to ask ourselves what the full ecological price of our activities is – including issues like curriculum, flights, land holdings and procurement. The result of this process is that our plan considers what is known as Sope 3 emissions and indirect impacts on global biodiversity.
KA: I think one of the biggest challenges lies in our decentralised system. It means that many different agents across the University will have a role in the implementation.
Isn’t our research enough of a contribution?
MA: They go together! A key part of the strategy is to ramp up Oxford’s research in this area. This week, Oxford is announcing a new research programme called Oxford Net Zero: An interdisciplinary international research programme dedicated entirely to advancing and supporting net zero commitments.
EJ: The University has lots of brilliant researchers who are working hard to inform global and UK actions to reduce biodiversity loss, restore nature and implement solutions to climate change. However, I don't think we can preach to others unless we've tidied up our own back yard. Excitingly, on the biodiversity side, this strategy will not only put us right at the forefront of organisations taking action to address our impacts, it is also generating lots of opportunities for cutting edge research.
Let’s talk about the costs
DW: Implementation will incur costs but will also provide savings through efficiency or through changing practice. In the current climate, we should also think about how we are able to be more efficient with our use of public money and, as such, dramatically cutting back on travel and making use of virtual participation is probably one of the quickest and easiest things we can do.
EJ: On the biodiversity side, there will be costs in the short run. But in the long run, the price of carrying on as we are will be higher. Oxford rightly sees itself as a leader and an innovator; by taking this decisive step, we can bring others with us, and costs will come down as supply chains start to respond.
HW: We are not trying to hide it; we will need to invest money to achieve our goals, and we will need to change the way we do things. It's inevitable. But we stand to gain much more.
KA: This is precisely the time to invest in protecting our University from climate risks! If COVID has taught us anything, it is never to underestimate the value of long-term thinking and preparing for the crisis scientists warn us about.
How can staff be involved?
Go to https://sustainability.admin.ox.ac.uk/consultation and have your say. We are offering participants a chance to win one of ten Blackwell's £50 vouchers if you complete the survey.